Sworn In, Prayed For: In a public inaugural ceremony on January 4, Annise Parker (pictured, left) was sworn in as mayor of Houston, Texas, the United States' 4th largest city. Her administration's top priorities are balancing the city budget, hiring a new police chief, and improving transportation.
As it happens, Mayor Parker lives in a publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous, same-sex relationship with her domestic partner Kathy Hubbard. The couple have been together since 1990 and have two adopted daughters and a foster son.
One distinguishing feature of Mayor Parker's swearing in ceremony was the invocation delivered by Pr. Joel Osteen (pictured, right) of Houston's Lakewood Church, which, with attendance in excess of 40,000, is perhaps the largest church in the US.
Reported by change.org, Pr. Osteen prayed:
God, we just thank you for raising her up. We honor her today and other elected officials. We count it a joy and an honor to be here.
Elsewhere Pr. Osteen is reported to have said:
What I believe the scripture teaches is that homosexuality is not God's best.
While the Lutheran churches in Houston are not as large as Pr. Osteen's church, Houston has a strong Lutheran community. Our readers may remember that Mayor Parker (then Controller for the city of Houston) was honorary co-chair at the gala sponsored by Grace Lutheran Church in Houston to honor Pr. Lura Groen on the occasion of her ordination extra ordinem in 2008.
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) will hold its 2010 Convention in Houston July 10 - 17. The convention theme is One People - Forgiven.

Why the Church Needs Lay People: On December 31, 2009, we received Thursday Theology #603 which contained FAQ About Recent ELCA Decisions originally compiled by Peter Keyel for his church in Pittsburgh, PA and passed along to Crossings subscribers by Ed Schroeder and now passed along by us to you.
Among the questions considered are:
How did this happen all of a sudden?
Are you sure it wasn't a small, but wealthy, gay lobby that did this?
What about this "cheap grace" I keep hearing about?
Is the ELCA about to fall apart?
Our favorite entry is in response to the question So are these new policies consistent with the Word of God?. It reads:
Yes. They do not fail the tests provided by Article IV of the Augsburg Confession and Apology - recognition of same-gender relationships and ordination of people therein does not eliminate the need for Christ, nor does it stifle the message of Christ. If anything, this is one answer to the prayer Christ suggests in Matthew 9:38: "Ask the Lord of the harvest, to send out workers into his harvest field."
While there is still some confusion on exactly what form "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous relationships" will take, it is best understood as part of God's ordaining for creation known as the estate of marriage.
The Reformers understood the estate of marriage to be located in the "left-hand" kingdom of the world (as contrasted with the "right-hand" kingdom of the church administering the Gospel and sacraments), and as such, the configurations of existence within this estate change over time. Polygamy and Levirate marriage--though "kosher" in the Bible--are two configurations for marriage that we no longer use. Changing configurations of an estate are most clearly seen in that of government, as we now have a republic where once empire and monarchy reigned.
The church's task is not choosing a specific configuration of government or marriage (remember that when Paul speaks of authority in Romans 13:4, "it is God's servant for your good," he is referring to Emperor Nero and the Roman Empire). Instead, its mission is the right-hand task of spreading the life-giving Gospel to the world. Thus, changing one configuration within the left-hand kingdom does not alter or negate the church's mission. In this particular case, these changes signal a firm commitment to include all people in the mission and life of the church, and will strengthen the church with the addition of the gifts those in same-gendered relationships will bring to the ministry.

Dr Peter Keyel is a layman who works in immunology and was raised in the ELCA. And his theological defense of the ELCA's policy change is the most convincing we've seen.

The Man-Woman Tapestry: At its mid-December meeting, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod approved a 76-page document titled The Creator's Tapestry: Scriptural Perspectives on Man-Woman Relationships in Marriage and the Church:
The biblical perspective on man and woman resembles a patterned tapestry, woven with multicolored threads both alike and different. Within the Creator's design, man and woman share a common human nature. In their sameness yet difference they interrelate beautifully -- most intimately within the one-flesh union of marriage.
The document is most recent response to a mandate from the Synod's 1995 Convention to consider the scriptural relationship of the sexes. In creating the report, the commission held four consultations with eight men and eight women representing a spectrum of ages, areas of expertise, and experiences of service in the church. Early drafts of the report were longer (110 pages). The report is expected to be published in March, 2010 and will be posted on the CTCR Web site.

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Pr. Sophie is all a-Twitter. Again.
Pr. Sophie's Tweets:

    Hot Dish Hotline: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." What have you seen or heard that other people really need to know about? Use the Hot Dish Hotline to submit your item online.

    CTCR Executive Director Dr. Joel Lehenbauer (pictured) put the report in context:
    We hope this document will be genuinely helpful to people as they search the Scriptures to discover anew how its truths apply to various aspects of their lives and relationships as men and women...
    The greatest challenge of all is for us to speak about these matters from the standpoint of the cross. We dare not forget that the heart of the Christian message is not guidance for marriage or sexuality or any other current issue, but the truth of an irreparably broken world that finds forgiveness, hope, and salvation only in Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection.

    New Drafts: On January 4, the ELCA release new drafts of proposed changes to that would implement the measures adopted by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.
    The new draft contains
    proposed amendments to the ELCA Candidacy Manual, particularly, Guidelines for Implementing the Actions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on the Rostered Ministry of People in Publicly Accountable, Lifelong, Monogamous Same-Gender Relationships
    These guidelines do a lot of work: on one hand addressing the issue of how candidacy committees manage conscience-bound differences of opinion among themselves and on the other, offering advice to committees on how to recognize publicly accountable. lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. Here is some of that advice:
    In working with a candidate who is in a same-gender relationship, as it does implicitly in working with a married heterosexual candidate, the committee will satisfy itself that there is sufficient evidence of public accountability, including a public commitment to a lifelong and monogamous relationship. For a person in a same-gender relationship, given the present legal and churchly realities, useful indications will not be the same in every case. The following are among the appropriate signs to consider:
    a. The candidacy committee may expect candidates to avail themselves of the highest legal accountability available where the candidate legally resides. Note: though the personís same-gender relationship may have been in place for some time prior to candidacy, it is nevertheless necessary to expect whatever legal recognition is available at the time of candidacy. The prior relationship is not called into question by this requirement.
    b. Where legal recognition is not available, the committee may expect evidence that the coupleís relationship has public recognition and pastoral support within their congregation. However, since this church has no official rite of blessing for same-gender couples, and because such a rite is not required for a person in a heterosexual marriage, no particular liturgical form of recognition can be required.
    c. Shared public responsibilities such as joint home ownership, joint adoption of children, or legal documents such as powers of attorney or estate planning may help to indicate public accountability.
    d. Statements in the candidateís congregational registration, internship reports, seminary faculty recommendation, and other references from those who know the person and his or her relationship may provide relevant information.
    e. Duration of the relationship.
    f. The candidate may also offer other demonstrations of being willing to be held accountable in his or her same-gender relationship.
    The records of the committee shall document and explain its reasons for concluding that a person is publicly accountable in her or his same-gender relationship.

    Comments on the drafts should be sent to ministrypolicies@elca.org.

    ELCA Letter on Anti-Homosexuality Bill: In a January 8 letter to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, ELCA Presiding Bishop voiced the ELCA's response to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill being considered by the Parliament of Uganda. Bishop Hanson's letter reads in part:
    The ELCA is gravely concerned that this measure, introduced last year by Ugandan member of parliament David Bahati, would, in certain cases, impose the death penalty for persons convicted of "aggravated homosexuality." Enactment of this kind of legislation would be an abhorrent injustice and outside the norms and standards of internationally-recognized human rights...
    The ELCA will continue to monitor developments relative to this proposed legislation and speak against its enactment.

    Engaged and Arrested: On December 26 two men Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga held a traditional engagement ceremony in the township of Chirimba in Malawi.
    On December 28, after the event was reported in local papers, police arrested the couple. The two appeared in court and were charged with 'unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency'. Chief magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-usiwa declined to make an immediate ruling, and the pair were remanded to Chichiri prison.
    On January 4 the chief magistrate denied the two men bail "for their own protection." January 11 was set for their court appearance. It was reported that authorities attempted to have the men undergo forcible examinations to establish whether the men had 'consummated' their engagement but this was aborted when they could not get an 'expert' to examine them.
    On January 6 Amnesty International called for their immediate and unconditional release. Homosexual acts carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years in Malawi.
    The two men met at Abraham Church, a local congregation, and had been living together for six months. The church's pastor, the Rev. Ami Nsewa, has said that Tiwonge Chimbalanga had been attending services as a female and was taken by church members to be a woman. Now that the congregation has realised he is male, the church will not accept them, Rev. Nsewa said.

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